Mailbag: Fanfiction

I’ve been thinking about Pacific Rim, and how I think it’s a pretty great film.  I was also thinking that it’s weird that I wrote a series of essays about how cool Superman can be in response to the disappointing effort that was Man of Steel, but not much about a film I actually enjoyed.  So expect a series of essays on Pacific Rim soon, but today, I thought I’d take a few moments to answer a letter in the Action Force Mailbag.

As always, you can reach me at  Don’t be shy.  I don’t get a lot of fan mail.  Every letter is read and appreciated.  If you have a question, send it.  If you just want to say hello, feel free.

Today’s mailbag question:


Beau asks:

I’ve noticed in creative writing circles, there’s the fans of self publishing and the fan fiction writers.  What is your opinion of Fan Fiction?
Personally I feel that unless you’re a writer for comic books or you’re a writer for television shows where they need a new story each week, what is the point?


Also, if you do or were to write fanfic, what would it be?

I used to have a mildly negative reaction to fanfiction.  My initial response was always that it seemed a bit lazy or that it sought to borrow creativity from other, better sources.  It seemed unnecessary and, honestly, a bit weird.
An interesting discussion with a friend of mine changed my mind.  She pointed out that, yes, fanfiction might indeed be a bit “lazy” and might be borrowing creativity, but that is exactly why it is so appealing to so many of its writers.  By borrowing from established stories and using established characters, an amateur writer is more freely able to begin a story than if they started entirely from scratch.  There is a fine tradition of new writers basing their characters on people they know or using familiar situations as jumping off points, even before fanfiction was established as a thing, and for a writer who either lacks confidence or simply wants to jump directly into writing, it’s a valid option.
The truth is that not everyone who writes wants to become a professional novelologist.  Some people just want to write stories, and they’re perfectly fine with using pre-established ideas to do that.  Fanfiction is also a good place for new aspiring writers to begin their journey.  It can take the pressure off, allowing a new writer to focus on story, resonance, and character while they get their feet under them.  Fanfiction can allow the amateur to indulge in a fun hobby and the aspiring writer to develop their confidence.
Short answer:  I’m fine with fanfiction.
There’s little doubt that a lot of fanfiction is terrible stuff, but a lot of original works are terrible stuff.  And I can’t see a reason to get upset about people doing art badly.  As a matter of fact, I support people expressing creativity in whatever way they want, even though I’m certain a lot of those expressions are dreadful failures.  That’s the thing I stand by most.  A world where people are free to be creative without fear of judgment can only be a good place.
Now, I’ll admit there are some mixed feelings on the topic too though.  I am hesitant to call anyone a “fake” writer, but if all someone writes is fanfiction, they probably aren’t challenging themselves enough.  It’s cool to take the easy option, but I’m also a big believer in taking that blind leap to try creating on your own.  Not surprising, I suppose, considering I’ve written ten different novels, each standalone, occupying different sub-genres.  I don’t expect everyone (or even most) people to do that, but I do expect everyone to occasionally step out of the comfort zone now and then, if only to fail gloriously before going back to it.
But then I remember that most people are perfectly content to find something they’re good at it and stick with it, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  If Writer X has mastered the genre of X-Men / Dr. Seuss crossover stories and wants to keep cranking them out, more power to them.  You probably won’t make a career out of it, but then again, making a career out of original material isn’t always puppy kisses and rainbows either.
On a side note, I would love more fanfiction based on my stories.  There aren’t many out there, but if you’re a fanfiction writer and so inclined, that’d be cool with me.  Just putting that out there.
As for the second part of the question, if I were to write fanfiction myself, it would revolve around that great Thark chieftain, Tars Tarkas from Edgar Rice Burrough’s Mars books.  He remains one of my favorite characters in all of fiction, and while I don’t know if I could do him justice, I wouldn’t mind giving it a shot if I didn’t have my own stories to focus on.
Keelah Se’lai
Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,


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  1. Posted October 28, 2013 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

    I wrote some Transformers fanfiction in college, mostly because I was too busy to do any real writing. Most fanfiction is probably a waste of time, unless you can change the names and then sell it like 50 Shades of Grey.

  2. Beau A
    Posted November 2, 2013 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

    Hey, that’s my question AND a great response!

    With NaNoWriMo going on right now, I see a lot of people writing fanfic novels, and I just don’t get it. Also, they tend to kick my butt on focus and word count, so I think your comment about it being a stress-free way to get into writing is a very valid point.

    I do think that if you love writing fan fiction, and you’re good at it, a smart route would be to look into writing for comic books or television. That is basically professional fanfiction.

    Hah! I figured you’d say the Barsoom books by Edgar Rice Burroughs. I wouldn’t mind attempting Automatic Detective, Divine Misfortune, or Emperor Mollusk fanfic. I won’t, though. It’s not my thing, and I doubt I’d do it justice.

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